Original Research - Special Collection: Holiness

Holiness and humour

Anita Houck
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 4 | a3464 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i4.3464 | © 2016 Anita Houck | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 May 2016 | Published: 30 September 2016

About the author(s)

Anita Houck, Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America; Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Although Christian spirituality includes a long tradition of suspicion of humour, humour can express and further holiness in several ways. Humour serves holiness in religious satire; it can also communicate the self-transcendent perspective of holy women and men. Humour and holiness can also illuminate each other because both are inherently relational. Christian holiness consists primarily in right relationship to the Holy One and, thus, to others. Humour’s complex relational nature is examined with the help of Ted Cohen’s analysis of joke-telling and evolutionary and cognitive research. Humour and its primary expression, laughter, are inherently ambiguous, capable of expressing and creating a range of attitudes and relationships; consequently, they can both conduce to and hinder holiness. Finally, humour can contribute to the religious imagination, and thus to holiness, by challenging established images of the holy, inviting fresh theological reflection, and inspiring ethical action. Both holiness and humour require openness to that which is beyond us and agility in responding to the other.


Spirituality; holiness; humor; laughter; jokes; Christianity; imagination; eutrapelia


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